Attendees from left, Melissa Pollack, Tatiana Mathis, Melinda Van Deventer and Sascha Macias compare their masks before the Empowering HeArts, 9th Annual Gala Dinner Fundraiser held at the Hyatt Regency Valencia on Friday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Masked guests attend Empowering HeArts, help support programs for women

Smiles were seen behind masks as Single Mothers Outreach held its 9th annual Empowering HeArts Gala at the Hyatt Regency Valencia Friday.

The fundraiser’s goal was to help programs and services used by Single Mothers Outreach to help women struggling in the community. The central theme of the gala was integrity, with six women from the community who were nominated as having personified integrity through their lives and their struggles. The honorees were Jane Lopez, Rhona Jukes, Andrea Vibe, Janelle Spindt, Holly Feneht and Patti Handy.

“To make this really different than just honoring somebody, we pair them up with an artist,” said Martin Rodriguez, immediate past president of the organization’s board of directors. “The artist then conveys the woman’s story through their artwork. So that’s the purpose of tonight’s event, to showcase them.”

Those in attendance also wore different masks to add some fun to the event and make it a masquerade, Rodriguez said wearing a mask of his own.

Artist Cecilia Kikalo, left, and Honoree Patti Handy examine Kikalo’s artwork on display before the Empowering HeArts, 9th Annual Gala Dinner Fundraiser held at the Hyatt Regency Valencia on Friday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Artist Kirby Lanier had auditioned years earlier for prior Empowering Hearts galas. This year, she was assigned to develop artwork based on honoree Janelle Spindt, who grew up in an orphanage in South Korea until she was adopted and came to the United States. In her twenties, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Lanier looked at Spindt as someone who overcame major obstacles. The process of developing artwork on honorees over the years has helped heal people “and (turn) their darkness that they went through into something beautiful,” Lanier said.

As the founder and owner of Vibe Performing Arts, Andrea Vibe kept her motto in mind, that “setbacks are setups for comebacks.” As a single mother of a 15-year-old son and also working as a professor at College of the Canyons, she’s continued a positive outlook. This includes after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“When you are able to see the arts just transform these people, whether or not they become professionals, that’s not what it’s about,” she said. “It’s just about confidence, it’s about believing in yourself and feeling good and happy.”

Guests placed glittering paper hearts into small buckets beside the artworks they liked, while at the other end of the room they participated in a silent auction where various gift baskets sat.

As the ceremony commenced, guests were treated to a three-course dinner and entertainment from comedians David Newton and Rocky Whatule, as well as students from Vibe’s studio.

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